Is Sam Harris being Unfairly Attacked or is he a Dishonest Hypocrite?

I am very familiar with Sam Harris. Richard Dawkins is the only one of the Four Horsemen I have read more of. I have bashed Dawkins and Bill Maher for their views on religion but have only briefly mentioned Harris, so here is a blog for him. He came to my attention again when he was on Real Time with Bill Maher, where Ben Affleck gives the both of them a pretty good beating. Ben Affleck is spot on in his analysis. Here is a link to the video. I will address specific parts later in this bit…

Ben Affleck is not the first person to criticize Sam Harris, in fact, it happens quite frequently. Harris has actually responded to his critics on his website, and actually covers two of the points I wish to touch on. Here is a link to his responses to critics…

http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2

If you read that, you will see one of his biggest grips is about people calling him a racist and a bigot. He states “Such defamation is made all the easier if one writes and speaks on extremely controversial topics…”

Sam Harris is either completely missing the point of the criticism (or intentionally avoiding it,) which is the same point Ben brought up in the video. He is not being criticized for talking about controversial issues. He is not being criticized for calling out the Jihadists and Islamists, he is being criticized because he LUMPS ALL MUSLIMS TOGETHER. He says he is not, and that there are decent Muslims, but this is completely dishonest. Both Sam and Bill proclaim they have numbers, and Sam Harris was nice enough to provide us with some. In the video, Harris says that Jihadists and Islamists make up roughly 20 percent of the Muslim world. So according to Sam Harris, 20 percent is “most?” He is defining and condemning an entire religion based on 20% of them? He also uses the term “conservative Muslim” but fails to give a number.

Let’s use Sam’s logic. According Gallop polls, over 40 percent of Americans believe in creationism. 40 percent is double the 20 percent Sam Harris uses to describe the “Muslim World,” so by his reasoning Sam Harris is just a stupid American that believes in creationism.

Honestly though, Ben and the others make the best argument for those types of numbers. They are the classical racist arguments. They are literally the same as saying “this percentage of black people commit crimes therefore…” They use minority numbers to condemn an entire group of people, to justify their prejudice. Harris backtracks on this claim and states this…

“Okay, I’ll give you what you want. There are hundreds of millions of Muslims who are nominal Muslims, who don’t take the faith seriously, who don’t want to kill apostates, who are horrified by ISIS, and we need to defend these people and prop them up and let them reform their faith.”

The fact that Harris says he is not talking about ALL Muslims (even though it is clearly obvious that he is,) is clearly false. He has never said anything positive about Muslims and now he is saying we need to defend them? He has done this type of thing before… in his book Letter to a Christian Nation, he puts a lumping disclaimer at the beginning of the book. It reads as follows…

“Consequently, the ‘Christian’ I address throughout is a Christian in a narrow sense of the term. Such a person believes, at minimum, that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that only those who accept the divinity of Jesus Christ will experience salvation after death.”

“In Letter to a Christian Nation, I have set out to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms. Consequently, liberal and moderate Christians will not always recognize themselves in the ‘Christians’ I address…”

“I engage Christianity at its most divisive injurious, and retrograde. In this, liberals, moderates and nonbelievers can recognize a common cause.”

To me, this seems fair enough. This book is about the more conservative Christians, the literalists, and not all Christians. It is similar to my lumping disclaimer about atheists. I read his entire book based on this statement and man did it piss me off when I got to the end.

There is a chapter at the end named The Problem with Moderate Religion. In this bit he craps on the very people he is claiming to not be talking about…Here are some selected quotes…
“Religious moderates also tend to imagine that there is some bright line of separation between extremist and moderate religion. But there isn’t. Scripture itself remains a perpetual engine of extremism…”

“Another problem with religious moderation is that it represents precisely the sort of thinking that will prevent a rational and nondenominational spirituality from every emerging in our world.”

“By living as if some measure of sectarian superstition were essential for human happiness, religious moderates prevent such a conversation from ever taking shape.”

At the very least he is guilty of being a horrible writer, lacking the capability to use the correct language to present his views and opinions. However, I find it more plausible that he is dishonest and a hypocrite. How can one say they are only talking about extremists and then say that liberals, moderates, and nonbelievers can recognize a common cause, and then follow that up by saying there is not really a difference between extremists and moderates?
I will emphasize it again…the reason he is being criticized is because he is being dishonest and inconsistent. To Sam Harris, one is either religious or not, there is no middle ground. You are either an atheist or religious extremist. Sam Harris does not like or respect people of religion. That is the definition of bigotry and that is not an unfair attack, it is a conclusion based on his writing about people with religious beliefs.

I have not taken his writing out of context, merely point out contradictions, but one of his biggest complaints of critics is that people take what he says out of context. He points to a bit which Chris Hedges criticizes him about preemptive nuclear war. I have also pointed this out in other blogs because it is one of the most troubling things he has ever written. Here is the bit, copied from the link I posted at the beginning…

“It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence. There is little possibility of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime armed with long-range nuclear weapons. A cold war requires that the parties be mutually deterred by the threat of death. Notions of martyrdom and jihad run roughshod over the logic that allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to pass half a century perched, more or less stably, on the brink of Armageddon. What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception could plunge us into a state of hot war with any Muslim state that had the capacity to pose a nuclear threat of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely. We must come to terms with the possibility that men who are every bit as zealous to die as the nineteen hijackers may one day get their hands on long-range nuclear weaponry. The Muslim world in particular must anticipate this possibility and find some way to prevent it. Given the steady proliferation of technology, it is safe to say that time is not on our side.”
This is the first bit of his response…

“Clearly, I was describing a case in which a hostile regime that is avowedly suicidal acquires long-range nuclear weaponry (i.e. they can hit distant targets like Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, etc.). Of course, not every Muslim regime would fit this description.”

Once again, he is trying to throw in the “not all Muslims” but once again he fails to use language that would support that statement. In addition to that, he makes it seem as if he is talking about ANY hostile regime, not just a Muslim one. This is Sam Harris taking Sam Harris out of context. If the book, chapter, or even section was about US foreign policy, he might have an argument, but this bit has nothing to do with that. If one looks at his book, they will see this is in the chapter titled “The Problem with Islam,” in a section titled “Jihad and the Power of the Atom.” In this section there are two paragraphs before the bit I quoted above. This is not being taken out of context, it is purely about the problem with Islam and he justifies preemptive nuclear strikes.

Harris attempts to disguise his beliefs by saying something like this would be “horrible” and “insane,” but he said it, and he makes an excuse for it…

“I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely.”

So basically he is saying “you made us do it because you believe in a myth and are unreasonable?” Harris is admitting it may be acceptable to kill tens of millions of innocent people! This is sick. Once again, I call this Hitler type stuff. This is not being taken out of context, it is not about US foreign policy, this is about the problems with Islam. There is absolutely no reason for this bit in his book unless he believes this is a legitimate option to dealing with Muslims.

Is Sam Harris being unfairly criticized? He is only being unfairly criticized if he admits he is a horrible writer that adds meaningless stuff to his books and that he is incapable of getting his real message across. I doubt this is the case though. I would not be allowed to speak in the same room with him because of his credentials compared to mine, ask him, he will tell you. The only logical conclusion is he is being fairly criticized, not for discussion the difficult topics, but by lumping all religious people together. He constantly, and clearly, says contradicting statements, whether that is in his speaking or writing. Maybe he is legitimately confused about how he feels about religious people, but then tell us that. Based on his words I think it is more apparent that he knows exactly what he believes and is upset when people call him out on it, as is any racist or bigot when you call them out on it. Anyone feel free to correct me if you think I AM wrong…